The Hake's facelift was worth the wait, and then some
by MARTIN JONES WESTLIN
Published - 12/19/16 - 12:41 PM | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you loved the Hake's fare before, you're certainly going to enjoy it now.
If you loved the Hake's fare before, you're certainly going to enjoy it now.
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Last winter, this newspaper regularly noted the events surrounding La Jolla's first recorded nuclear explosion—the devastation, commencing around Feb. 1, would obliterate the exteriors of six businesses at 1250 Prospect St. over the next nine months, leaving a debris field of scaffolding, heavy-duty extension cords, misplaced hammers and a raft baffled patrons.

The new era, in the form of the reconstruction's end, is pretty much in place now. In fact, one eatery has been back online since Oct. 12, with its chief spokesman briefly wondering if the long layover might cost patronage and the dollars it represents. But managing partner Ricardo Dondisch wasn't born yesterday, or even the day before—he and his Tintorera Hospitality Group have likely seen such fluctuations in traffic among their 13 spots in Mexico City.

The Hake Kitchen & Bar, which opened in June of 2013, had indeed built on a loyal diner base and rave reviews until the close for repairs. Then came three false starts, with the eatery balking after announcing its reopening. Surely, the interruptions would cost something, if only in word of mouth.

I wondered the same thing myself," Dondisch said. "I wondered about it a lot. But business has been good the last two months. Every single day, we get tables of people who weren't aware we've reopened. We've also seen a lot of new faces, and we do have a large number of locals who frequent the bar.

With a $2 million reconstruction bill, it better be. The restaurant has been expanded from 3,500 to 5,400 square feet and now features a deck and indoor view seating over La Jolla Cove. A 115-seat main dining room and a 12-seat private dining area dot the periphery of the state-of-the-art kitchen, where executive chef Aarti Sanghavi draws inspiration from Indian, Mediterranean, Baja Med, Latin American and Asian fare.

Mexico City architect Jorge Campos has done with his design what Sanghavi does to the food. There's an upscale, airy vibe here, down to the all-copper bar. Called Proof, the drinkery touts 250 wines and a daunting list of craft libations (if you don't order the tequila-based Naima with your grilled Spanish octopus and 20-ounce rib eye steak, you have nobody to blame but you-know-who).

Mussels, yellowtail, ceviche, eggplant, beet crudo, lamb and (of course) hake are a few of the items guaranteed to taste their best in this spectacular new surrounding. Ordering them is easy— trust factor, Dondisch said, isn't as cut and dry. Name recognition, repeat traffic, the new facades at the Prospect address: They're all abstractions, exactly the way The Hake seeks to cement itself in establishing its patron-friendly outreach. Statistics be damned.

"There's many different ways to measure [patronage]," Dondisch said. "There are analytics that tell us who comes when and who eats and drinks what. But for us, it's more an organic thing. We want happy customers, and we want to exceed their expectations. We also definitely want the return [traffic] so we can gauge how we need to create the true dining experience. It doesn't happen overnight, unless you're a celebrity chef."

And barring another nuclear blast, Dondisch and The Hake have all the time in the world.
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